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Free Airtime For Political Candidates

Will Rogers once quipped that “it costs so much to run for office, most people can't even afford to lose.”

Will didn't live to see the half of it. Nowadays it costs about $1 million to win a seat in the House of Representatives, $10 million for a Senate seat. About half of this campaign money goes to buying airtime on broadcast television. As the 2002 session of Congress came to a close, Senators John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Russell Feingold (D-Wisc.) introduced a bill that would require all television and radio stations to air a minimum of two hours a week of programming centered on the election, each election cycle. The bill would also require stations to provide a limited amount of free advertising time to qualified candidates. The free airtime bill is expected to be the next major battle in the campaign finance reform wars when Congress reconvenes in 2003.

Proponents believe the free airtime bill would open up the political process to those without the wealth and access to large contributions now needed to get on television.


Paul Taylor is the founder and President of the Alliance for Better Campaigns, a nonprofit group that organized the Free Airtime Coalition, www.freeairtime.org.

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